Between 656-1066 AD the area of Shropshire was ruled by Saxon kings. The only exception was two periods between 1013-1014 and 1016-1042 when the Danes conquered the territory (which was subsequently won back). Strictly speaking, the invaders at that time were a mixture of Angles, Jutes and Saxons but the latter name tended to be used to describe them all.
656 - A raiding party of Northumbrian Saxons, led by their King Oswiu, killed the Celtic King Cynddylan and his kingdom of Pengwern was absorbed into the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. This had also been taken over by Oswiu.
658 – Oswiu was succeeded as king of Mercia by Wulfere.
661 - Wulfere quarrelled with King Kenwulf of the West Saxons and fought them at the battle of Posentcsbyrig (Pontesbury). Saxon settlement of Shropshire continued and a study of place-names show that these are mostly English but, in the areas around Clun and Oswestry, they are mostly Welsh. This shows that in these remote areas Saxon control was weak. The town that was to become Shrewsbury was renamed from the Celtic Pengwern (knoll of alders) to the Saxon Scrobbesbyrig (settlement among the shrubs). A royal Saxon princess who became Saint Milburga founded Much Wenlock Priory for nuns and monks, who worshipped in separate churches.
760 - Offa attacked the Britons at Hereford and again in 778, 784 and 796. The northern part of Shropshire was part of the territory of the Wreocensæte. The southern part probably belonged to the Magonsaete. Both were absorbed by the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia by King Offa.
779 – King Offa drove the Welsh King of Powys from Shrewsbury and secured his conquests by a second defensive earthwork known as Offa's Dyke. This was constructed from the mouth of the River Dee to that of the River Wye and followed an agreement with the Celts whereby they took back Oswestry.
820 – King Coenwulf had Wat’s Dyke constructed to protect against raids by Britons.
874 – A Danish raid destroyed Much Wenlock Priory.
883 – When the King of Mercia died, King Alfred of the West Saxons applied political pressure for him not to be replaced. Instead, Mercia became a dependency ruled by a Mercian ealdorman (earl) called Aethelred, who was married to Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed.
896 – A Danish raid on West Sussex was stopped by King Alfred and they were forced to abandon their ships near London. Escaping overland, they arrived at Quatbridge (Bridgnorth) on the River Severn and constructed a fort. However, they were pursued by Alfred’s army and defeated.
911 – Aethelred died and was succeeded as the ruler of Mercia by his wife Aethelflaed. She was apparently much more efficient than her husband and erected forts at Bridgnorth and Chirbury to guard against constant raids by the Danes. She was affectionately known as the "Lady of the Mercians".
918 – Mercia was absorbed into the kingdom of Wessex under King Edward the Elder.
927 – King Aethelstan declares that Wessex is now England.
963 – Plesc (the modern town of Newport) was described as having a high street, stone quarry and a religious community. The name Plesc means fortified place or one with palisade, showing that it was of some importance.
1006 - The kingdom was organised into shires (smaller areas of administration) and Scrobbesbyrigscire (Shropshire) was created. The Sheriff acted on behalf of the king and had the authority to collect taxes and raise armies for attacks into Wales, as well as being responsible for enforcing law and order. King Aethelred the Unready spent the winter in Shrewsbury.
1013 – An invasion by Danes beat King Aethelred the Unready in battle and England was temporarily ruled by the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard.
1014 - King Aethelred the Unready regained his throne when Sweyn died.
1016 – King Edmund Ironside plundered Shrewsbury and the surrounding area to prevent it being used as a base by the invading Danes. Edmund was defeated by Cnut (Canute) and they reached an agreement to divide the kingdom between them. Cnut initially took control of only Mercia but Edmund died the following year and left Cnut as the sole ruler of England.
1042 – England was won back from the Danes by the Saxon King Edward the Confessor. Over the next few years, much of Shropshire was laid to waste by the Britons.
1053 - Welshmen killed many of the English wardens at Westbury and in that year King Harold ordered that any Welshman found beyond Offa's Dyke within the English pale should have his right hand cut off.
1066 – King Harold Godwinson was defeated by William the Conqueror and the kingdom passed to the Normans.
Gazetteer of Sites
There are several Saxon churches in Shropshire. Go to the Churches page and they can be identified by the date, which will either be the 10th Century or earlier
Cropmarks suggest 2 timber buildings immediately to the west of the Atcham to Upton Magna Road. To the north-east is a complex of overlapping cropmarks, most of which can be interpreted as ditches, tracks and field systems overlain by Medieval ridge and furrow. The two buildings are nearly in line, the southern one measuring 14m by 8m, with a small addition or porch at each end, bringing the total length to 21m. A large pit or hole has cut through part of the building. The second building to the north-east is of similar character and has a small part separated by a sub-division near each end. To the north-east, a narrow extension may have been added or even rebuilding may have taken place, giving overall dimensions of 24m by 8m. Faint marks within the interior may suggest an aisled structure. It is possible that these buildings belong to a Saxon palace, probably of the 7th Century AD. This site is unique in the West Midlands and probably represents the centre of power of an important Saxon overlord.
In 912 AD, Lady Aethelflaed placed a timber palisade around a burh at Brycg and this has been identified as Bridgnorth. The word Brycg is Saxon for bridge and there was probably one here at that time. Other theories place the burh at Quatford but there was only a ford there. It has been suggested that the burh itself may have been on the site later occupied by Bridgnorth Castle. A Saxon mint was located at Brycg and produced coins in the reign of Ethelred, from 979-985 and from 1009-1016.
A bridge across the Severn was certainly in existence in 1086 and it may have dated from much earlier as there are references Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to "Cantbricge" in 910 AD and "Cwatbrycg" in 896 AD. A large oak timber was removed from the river at this point about 1780 and it was noted that other bridge timbers were visible at low water. Some theories place it at Quatford to the south but it is unlikely that there would be two bridges at that time so close together.
The Hermitage is a cave cut into the sandstone rock of a cliff and is reputed to have been occupied by the hermit Athelardston, who was the brother of King Aethelstan (ruler of England between 924-939). In the 14th Century it was occupied by a Dominican friar. It consists of four chambers, one originally used as a chapel and was occupied as a dwelling until 1878. The rock face from SO2789346 to SO72759335 is indented with rock dwellings and minor caves connected with former dwellings.
Bromfield Priory (SO482768)
The site of a Roman marching camp was re-used as a Saxon graveyard somewhere between the 7th-10th Centuries. There are 21 graves and an unused one, all orientated roughly east-west. The only grave goods found were two iron knives and fragments of an iron buckle.
In 915 AD, Lady Aethelfled constructed a burh at Chirbury. Some theories place it at King's Orchard, where there are square earthworks, but the exact location has not yet been confirmed.
The Domesday Book records the Hundred of "Witentreu" and there is a Wittery Wood to the east of Chirbury. The place name suggests that it may have been a meeting place (moot) at a prominent tree. In the 12th Century the hundred was absorbed into the Chirbury Hundred. The original tree will no longer exist and its location can only be speculated on. One possibility is Wittery Bridge over the River Camlad.
Church Stretton (SO416893)
There is reference to a Saxon "Church in the Dale" that used to be in the Old Chapel Yard in 1601. The site is possibly the triangular field east of Priors Holt.
Saxon carving and masonry in the parish church.
A considerable amount of Saxon masonry in the church, including the nave and a herringbone pattern in the north wall.
The 17th Century Marsley Farm may stand on the site of a Saxon royal hunting lodge recorded as “Marsetelie” in 1086.
Hayton’s Bent (SO53008205)
Saxon cemetery in which iron weapons have been found as grave goods. It was later used again after the Battle of Stokesay in 1645.
Lower Short Ditch (SO22338848 - SO 22248775)
This ditch runs across Kerry Hill, parallel with Upper Short Ditch at a distance of two miles to the east. They are identical in character and were quite likely constructed at the same time for the purpose of defence. It has an earth bank 5-8ft high with a ditch on its western side.
Offa’s Dyke (SO280740 – SJ263374)
See more detailed description HERE.
The name and unusual plan of Pontesbury suggest that it was an important Saxon settlement. It was called “Pantesberie” in 1086, meaning “the burh in the valley”. The present day D-shaped one-way system, with Hall Bank to the north, Chapel Street to the east and Brookside to the south-west, surrounds most of the older houses in the village. As no significant changes have been made in the alignment of roads since at least 1769, this may follow the line of a defensive earthwork.
In 1086, the Domesday Book recorded that “the borough called Quatford pays nothing”, indicating that it was previously a Saxon settlement.
Between 902-912 AD, Lady Aethelfled constructed a burh at Shrewsbury on a pre-existing settlement that was called Scrobbesbyrig. It is possible that the defences consisted of a bank and ditch thrown up across the neck of the peninsula, an area which has since suffered from considerable disturbance as the town has developed. There was a Saxon mint in Shrewsbury which made coins for most of the Saxon period from 924-1066 AD.
Excavations at Pride Hill Chambers uncovered a Saxon cesspit with a Medieval house superimposed on it. The cesspit was ringed by 18 stake holes, 7cm in diameter and 34cm apart, representing either a low fence or a framework on which a wooden cover was laid. It contained a series of superimposed layers of alternating rubbish and sterile coverings of pebbles, gravel and sand. The pit was conclusively dated to the 10th Century by pottery sherds on the bottom of the pit and in the upper levels.
Excavations at the Prince Rupert Hotel revealed 5 pits containing waterlogged black sludge, which had Saxon pottery and animal bones in it. The significance of this site lies in its position in the highest part of the town within the limits of the presumed Saxon burh.
A small excavation in the cellar of St Mary's Cottage, opposite the parish church, revealed a Saxon grave thought to be part of a much larger cemetery associated with the church.
Saxon iron spearhead, probably of the 7th-9th Centuries, found during the erection of quarry plant.
Saxon carving and masonry has been identified in the church.
Upper Short Ditch (SO19158675 - SO19458725)
This ditch runs across Kerry Hill, parallel with Lower Short Ditch at a distance of two miles to the west. They are identical in character and were quite likely constructed at the same time for the purpose of defence.
Upton Magna (SJ55121228)
Saxon spearhead found south of Upton Magna village. It was 150mm long and 1mm thick, with a shallow groove along its length.
Wat’s Dyke (SJ301219 – SJ313377)
See more detailed description HERE.
Wenlock Nunnery (SJ624000)
Wenlock Priory (SJ624000)
In 915 AD, Edward the Elder created a burh at Weardbyrig but its location is unknown. It is suggested that the name Westbury is a corruption of this, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that an English patrol was routed by the Welsh near Westbury in 1053. It therefore suggests that Westbury was a defended place and that it was the site of the earlier burh. Roads form a distinct D-shaped enclosure around the parish church which may be evidence of defences.